Minister Chan says S’pore ‘intangible strengths’ offers opportunities in a less connected world; Netizens still bring up his confusion between cotton and sheep

Even in a more protectionist and less connected world, Singapore can still tap opportunities with its intangible strengths that are “not easy to replicate elsewhere”, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing in his national broadcast on Sunday (14 June).

Mr Chan noted that many investors have chosen to site and expand their businesses in Singapore not because of the nation’s natural resources or cheaper cost, but because of its strength.

“They chose us because of our strengths, which are not easy to replicate elsewhere. We are open, and connected with the world, we are trusted, we are united and stable as a society, and we have a skilled workforce,” he said.

Noting that the pandemic has led many countries to retreat from globalisation and erected more protectionist barriers between countries, Mr Chan asserted that Singapore must resist these pressures.

“A less connected world means a poorer world and fewer opportunities for all. A less connected Singapore means fewer and poorer quality jobs for us,” he remarked.

The Minister believes that the country can still “make a living and more” despite the protectionism trend among other countries and in the less connected world.

“We can build capabilities to play critical roles in global supply chains to produce high quality products and services that others value. For example, we make four out of the world’s top ten drugs, we are the world’s seventh largest exporter of chemicals,” he added.

Mr Chan went on to say that Singapore’s resilience comes from building networks and diversifying its supply sources and markets, adding that the country would never be able to have everything it could possibly need for the next crisis.

He pointed out trust as another of Singapore’s intangible strength as the country continued to show the world its trustworthiness throughout the COVID-19 crisis. The Government did not impose export restrictions or nationalise foreign investments, while keeping the country’s production lines open for global supply chains including critical materials for surgical masks.

“We worked with companies to increase their production, so that we could meet Singapore’s and the world’s needs, and we facilitated the continued flow of essential goods and people through our ports and airports,” Mr Chan stated.

He added that Singapore’s partnerships with other countries in the form of trade agreements will also open up new opportunities for businesses and “signal to the world its confidence and determination to press on with regional economic integration”.

For instance, Singapore’s initial partnerships with Brunei, Chile, and New Zealand have grown to become the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), plus its agreement with New Zealand to resist export restrictions and uphold global supply chains has now expanded to include eleven countries.

Additionally, the Government will also press on to build the nation’s connectivity infrastructure to reinforce its position as a choice hub for business, finance, trade, and data flows, but the immediate focus is on jobs.

Mr Chan also highlighted the Government’s focus on creating 100,000 jobs and training opportunities in the coming year across various sectors including healthcare and early childhood education.

“This is how many we will need, to help those coming out from schools, as well as those retrenched. We may well need to create more jobs, if the situation worsens,” he said.

Mr Chan reassured that everyone in Singapore will share the benefits of the country’s growth, as he highlighted the Government’s efforts in two areas – digitalisation and internationalisation.

“COVID-19 has pushed many businesses and consumers to embrace the digital world. The digital trajectory will only accelerate, and not reverse,” he noted.

Furthermore, the Economic Development Board has captured S$13 billion of investment commitments in the first four months of this year.

“As you can see, there are still many opportunities for us, but we must be on our toes. Survival favours not the strong, but the agile,” he remarked.

Netizens criticize Minister Chan, while some bring up his previous confusion between sheep and cotton

Nevertheless, many netizens criticized Mr Chan’s remarks while some have yet to move on from the Minister’s previous confusion between sheep and cotton.

To recap, during a media podcast in late-May, he made an illustration that surgical masks could not be wholly produced in Singapore because there are parts that have to be procured elsewhere, such as cotton.

Mr Chan remarked, “Don’t have too many sheep in Singapore to produce cotton”, despite the fact that cotton actually comes from cotton plants and not sheep.

In reference to that, a handful of netizens penned under the comment section of The Straits Times Facebook post – covering the national broadcast – about the confusion.

Others went on to criticize the Minister’s remark, saying that “survival favours not the strong, but the agile”.

Some netizens urged the Government to ensure the creation of 100,000 new jobs will be given to Singaporeans and not foreigners.

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